Charles Jeffery Christian wouldn’t again hold his newborn grandson and Phyllis Hayes Avery wouldn’t get to take the teaching job she’d just landed.
When police arrived, John Clayton Corley surrendered. He had a long history of mental instability and when his day in court came Judge J. Bryant Durham accepted his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
After that plea, in 2008, he was committed to state supervision in a mental hospital.
Every year he came up for review and this January state psychologists recommended he was ready for release from state supervision. At that time, Judge Durham granted that request. The Floyd County District Attorney’s office filed for a motion for reconsideration.
During Tuesday’s motion hearing, they discussed additional options characterized as a step between full commitment to a state hospital and unsupervised release.
Durham said he felt “blindsided” by not being presented the option in the previous hearing that Corley could continue to work toward independence but still be monitored by the state and the court.
The judge said he felt uncomfortable releasing Corley from all supervision and agreed to keep Corley on a conditional release with additional direction to state hospital personnel to continue to supervise him in his stages of recovery.
“Is there any particular reason not to be cautious,” Durham asked.
“No,” Deborah Gunnin, a forensic psychologist testifying in the hearing, replied.
Not all wounds heal
During that reconsideration hearing on Tuesday, members of the victim’s families spoke about how their lives continue to be affected by Corley’s actions in 2007.
Avery’s family told the court she’d just gotten a teaching job and had a Masters degree, but after being so badly wounded can no longer function by herself and, her mother told the judge, she had a young son who was raised in foster care because she could not provide for him.
“John Corley took everything away from Hayes,” she told the court. “The psychotic drugs he refused to take, she now has to take every day.”
Christian’s son, Andrew Christian, told the court about how his father only got to hold his grandson three times before he was killed.
He told the court he understood Corley pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and had delusions that his father, dressed in civilian clothes, was a government agent when he shot him. But a small detail always bothered him.
“When the police showed up to disarm him, he was competent enough to let them disarm him,” Andrew Christian said.
Other family members said they were bothered because Corley had never shown remorse, or apologized for his actions.
Near the end of the hearing, Alicia Thomas, representing Corley from the Office of the Mental Health Advocate, spoke to him then turned to the Christian and Avery families.
“He did want ya’ll to know he’s very sorry for what he did,” she said. She followed saying he just didn’t have the courage to speak for himself. Corley remained facing forward during the exchange.
‘He’s been doing very well’
Gunnin testified she’d conducted Corley’s annual review for the past two years and said he had shown he was committed to his treatment and the ability to function in public.
“When he came into the hospital he was very sick,” she said. “He was very mentally ill.”
He was suffering from schizophrenia and was having visual and auditory hallucinations at that point, she said. Once Corley began to realize he was ill and participated in the treatment, which included taking medications, he began to show improvement. He spent approximately eight years at the hospital and then was transferred to a special apartment in Athens where he was closely monitored by staff.
He’s been at those apartments since September 2016 and taken many steps to be re-integrated into society. Corley, an Army vet, went to the VA medical center and has done regular volunteer work for Our Daily Bread, which provides meals to the needy.
“By all accounts he’s been doing very well,” Gunnin testified.
She recommended a full release, which would mean he would not be monitored by the court or by hospital officials.
However, Assistant District Attorney Natalee Staats said that means he could choose not to take his medication. Prior to killing Christian, Corley had sought out help and had not found it, she said.
“If nobody helps him again we could be right back where we were 10 years ago,” Staats said.